May Day 2010: 130 years of Working Class Immigrant Struggle

[We celebrate May Day as an international workers holiday throughout the world.  Until four years ago,it was common for us, particularly in Chicago where it all began, to hang our heads because May Day seemed all but forgotten.  Then the immigration rights marches overwhelmed the old and relatively isolated commemorations by people who had been long keeping the spirit from being extinguished — so overwhelmed that it was easy to call this some other phenomenon.  There is, however, a direct line from the days in 1886 when the police fired on demonstrators and galvanized the eight hour movement.  That direct line starts with the composition of the original haymarket martyrs, the ones imprisoned in Illinois on the charges of instigating a riot, some of whom were executed.  Immigrants led the support for striking workers, immigrants were arrested and executed, immigrants continue to raise the banner of justice which has immense significance for the rest of the working class.

Four years ago, when the May Day march in Chicago swelled to a million people, the demonstration — on a week day, when so many workers took off work and virtually stopped the city — responded to draconian legislation proposed to control immigration.  Now the recent Arizona legislation has generated a similar response.  Saturday promises to be another important step in breaking down barriers between sections of the working class that have opposed each other.  Below is the lead article in the current Tribuno del Pueblo that comments on the situation confronting the immigration rights movement.  There is also a story about how Colombian singer Shakira responds to the Arizona law.

Remember the demonstrations taking place tomorrow; remember also that the arts have always played an important role in participating in the working class struggle, as we have tried to demonstrate on this blog, not only in the daily poetry contributions you have seen here in the month of April.  Today’s contribution is Jack Hirschman’s May Day poem you will find in a separate post. — Lew Rosenbaum]

Editorial: ¡Si se puede!
A just immigration reform now!
from the Tribuno del Pueblo

On March 22, 2010 more than a quarter of a million marched in Washington D.C. chanting, ¡Si se puede!, letting Congress and the Democratic Party know a just immigration reform is long overdue. As we move forward celebrating the fourth anniversary of the first immigrant rights marches, it’s time to also assess where the immigrant rights movement is at as a whole.
Immigration reform has been stuck. Considering the high hopes and spirited enthusiasm of the massive immigrant rights marches, the election of the first minority president in U.S. history and a Democrat controlled Congress, there has been no meaningful progress toward legalization and amnesty. Instead, there are even more security measures such as tighter border surveillance and enforcement and workplace identification checks such as e-verify.
Despite the recent passage of major national health care reform in this country, undocumented and even legal resident immigrants have been to a large extent excluded from coverage. They were victims of backroom political deals designed to insure passage of the health reform measure, ignoring the fact that immigrants pay taxes and contribute to this country. Their exclusion occurred despite the fact that Latinos and other immigrants compose the group with the lowest rates of health care coverage in the country. Several states such as California had already dropped undocumented immigrants from health coverage due to state budget deficits. Now, in response to further deficits, the California Governor is proposing to deny health programs even for legal residents.
Some in the immigrant movement will be quick to blame President Obama. For sure, many on the far right are already attacking “Obamacare” as they call the national health care legislation, but not for the same reason that immigrants are unhappy with it. They call it “big government,” socialized medicine, or communism, as they hurl racial epithets and incite violence against Democratic congressmen who voted for the legislation.
How does one make sense of this morass? Is it racism? Is it betrayal by our leaders? Is this the America of our dreams of democracy, fair play and equal opportunities?
One thing is for sure, and it is that the Democratic Party is not delivering even for U.S. citizens, let alone immigrants. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the Democratic Party from the Republican Party. While banks and General Motors were bailed out, foreclosures, job losses, and social service cuts are affecting even formerly comfortable and securely employed U.S. born workers. Congressmen of both major political parties receive major contributions from interests that keep the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies in control of health care, even as immigrants and U.S. born workers die from lack of health care. Those who strive to control this country behind the scenes are bigger than just one man and will utilize whichever party, movement or fringe group they need to do it.
So, as the May Day marches approach, it is important to see who our enemy is and who our friends are. Many immigrants are instinctively moving in this direction already, ignoring the calls to be patient and wait for a better immigration proposal. As an integral part of the workforce and social fabric of this country, immigrants are affected by the same social destruction that is occurring to the rest of the U.S. working class. We are united with the rest of the U.S. working in our mutual need to struggle to survive. We must also become united with them in unmasking and exposing the extremists who threaten the democratic ideals that also attracted us to this country.
It is in defending ourselves and demanding our full rights, while looking for what we have in common with the broader American working class which is also being hurt, that we will defeat the weapon of “divide and conquer” that our mutual enemy has historically used. That will be the beginning of political independence for the American working class, of which we as immigrants are an integral part.


Shakira attacks Arizona immigration law

Reprinted from The Guardian, UK. Colombian singer protests controversial legislation allowing police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant

Shakira protests Arizona immigration law Controversial legislation … Shakira protests Arizona immigration law in Phoenix. Photograph: Joshua Lott/Reuters

Shakira has joined the chorus of opposition to Arizona’s new immigration law. President Obama has questioned its legality, Linda Ronstadt has called for its repeal, the band Stars have called for a boycott, and now the Grammy award-winning Colombian singer has visited Phoenix to discuss the controversial legislation with the city’s mayor.

Civil rights activists are furious about bill 1070, signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer on Friday. If police suspect anyone of being an illegal immigrant, the bill directs officers to ask about their immigration status – and if they are not carrying proper papers they will be committing a crime. Critics have called this state-supported racial profiling.

“Shakira is deeply concerned about the impact of this law on hard-working Latino families,” said Trevor Nielson, the singer’s “political and philanthropic adviser”. “She is coming to Arizona to try to learn more about how law enforcement is reacting to this and how we can ensure that people in the state of Arizona are not being targeted because of the colour of their skin.”

While Shakira is best known for hits like She-Wolf and Hips Don’t Lie, she is also a long-time activist. The singer received a medal from the UN’s International Labour Organisation last month, and she is also a global ambassador for Unicef. Shakira is particularly involved with groups that are active in Central and South America.

According to Nielson, Shakira cancelled other commitments to visit Phoenix yesterday, where she met with mayor Phil Gordon, who opposed bill 1070, and the local police chief. Although she also hoped to speak with Governor Brewer, her staff said she was too busy.

Appearing on the radio show On Air With Ryan Seacrest, Shakira described her questions for officials. “Are they really willing to enforce [a] law [when] they know it is going to crush the dream of so many immigrants who would like to have a shot at the American dream, like so many minorities in this country have in the past? We all know how America has been forged by the dreams of those people, and by their passion, and by their contribution to the economy – by working really hard.”

Three Arizona cities are considering lawsuits to block the new bill, and the legislation may be challenged at referendum in November. At least one state sheriff has called it a “stupid law” and said this week he would not enforce it in his county.

• This article was amended on 30 April 2010. The original referred to Arizona governor Jan Brewer as ‘he’, when in fact she is female. This has been corrected.


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